KANSAS CITY — American workers have been barreling toward burnout for years. Technology has blurred the lines between work and life, and social media has amplified the pressure to outperform one’s peers, persisting through exhaustion in pursuit of achievement and economic prosperity.
For startup founders, whose identity and purpose often are intertwined with their businesses, the glamour of the grind may be blinding. Toxic messages disguised as motivation encourage entrepreneurs to “hustle harder” at the expense of physical and mental well-being.
“As a founder, I felt like my first startup was a house of cards that would all come tumbling down if I wasn’t working 24/7,” said Jordan Buckner, founder of Foodbevy.com, an online community for food and beverage entrepreneurs. “I was constantly afraid of running out of money before the company could be successful, and that took a toll on my mental, physical and emotional health.”
The pandemic has prompted many to reevaluate the role of productivity within a healthy, happy lifestyle. Several packaged food entrepreneurs are outright rejecting hustle culture, and their businesses may be benefiting because of it.
“Entrepreneurs have a reputation for always having their hair on fire,” said Ori Zohar, founder of New York-based spice company Burlap & Barrel. “If all you do is put out fires, you don’t leave time to build a business that’s not as combustible.”
An advocate against entrepreneurial overwork is Mark A. Samuel, founder and chief executive officer of IWON (I’m Winning On Nutrition) Organics, a Corte Madera, Calif.-based brand of snacks, cereal and granola. In a recent LinkedIn post, he described his workday schedule, which involves no calls or meetings prior to mid-morning. First come family and fitness.
“To me, health takes priority, and that means living a lifestyle led by good choices that positively affect my mental and physical health,” Mr. Samuel told Food Entrepreneur. “And the 24/7 hustle doesn’t fit that model. With a more balanced model, it’s not to say you can’t be successful, it’s not to say you can’t work hard during the week. You can. In fact, just as much so as those who claim to work all those long hours.
“I, for one, have a schedule that pushes me to do more in less time. Laser focused for specific hours during the work week. And I’d put that output up against anyone who takes on 16-hour workdays.”
Nicholas Naclerio, founder and CEO of Mmmly, a New York maker of functional cookies, practices mindfulness and establishes clear boundaries.
“I listen to what my body needs,” he said. “I pay attention to my energy levels, my performance, and my level of clarity. I create structure for myself and even if I have a bunch to do, I cut it off at most times.
“That happens about 70% to 80% of the time. I know that if I don’t cut off, I’m betraying myself and needs. I definitely have days where I need to pull through, but I consciously accept that I’m doing that and likely will rest up a bit more later if I had an intense week.”
Detaching from those preaching “all work, no play” rhetoric also helps, he added.
Kimberly Behzadi, founder of subscription box company Bookmarks & Breadsticks, relies on outsourcing tasks when possible, noting “exhaustion never produces excellence.”
“A learned skill is recognizing you are a boss versus an employee,” she said. “True ownership requires delegation, and I’m not perfect at it, but grinding myself to exhaustion has never once brought me improved sales, just frustration and mistakes.”
Not all entrepreneurs have a team or capital to redistribute responsibilities. The demands of building a business are unrelenting and require flexibility and at times moving quickly. Still, it is important to remember that one’s worth is not measured in hours worked. Perpetuating unhealthy ideals of a ceaseless grind should not be confused with a well-considered and well-executed business strategy.